Student pharmacists earn top national honor for drug misuse education

JOHNSON CITY (April 11, 2023) -- A student organization at East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy earned the top honor for service organizations in the country for educating the community about prescription drug misuse.    

The college’s American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) Operation Substance Use Disorders (SUD) committee (formerly Generation Rx) won the APhA Operation Substance Use Disorders Chapter Achievement Award for 2021-2022. The group was honored last month at the American Pharmacist's Association annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. 

This is the 10th consecutive year that the chapter has been recognized either nationally or regionally, and it has been named the winner five times in the category. The chapter is the most nationally recognized SUD APhA-ASP patient care committee in the country. 

APhA-ASP Generation Rx transitioned to its new name, Operation SUD, in 2021 through a collaboration with Walmart Inc. to expand the breadth and depth of this important initiative. 

“Part of what led me to pharmacy school was the passion to want to educate others on the misuse of medications, and this was further inspired by Dr. Sarah Thomason’s passion,” said Madison Smith, who chaired the committee during the 2021-22 academic year. “When I joined Operation SUD my first year, I thought that if we could just help one person, that would be enough of an accomplishment for me. 

“To see the impact we've had over the years on community members, and particularly the youth in our community, has been an absolute joy and reward to me,” Smith continued. 

Dr. Thomason (formerly Melton), professor of Pharmacy Practice and vice chair of Pharmacy Practice, has overseen the group’s many national recognitions since its origin in 2012.

“Our student pharmacists are agents of change and are committed to making a difference in our medically underserved Appalachian region,” Dr. Thomason said. “There is no doubt they are saving lives and positively impacting the opioid overdose rates in our region. This award is a well-deserved recognition for their passion and dedication to Operation SUD.” 

Samantha Taylor, who co-chaired the committee during 2021-22, also was ecstatic about the honor. 

“Winning the national award for Operation SUD validates our hard work and dedication to this educational program,” she said. “ETSU student pharmacists strive to break the stigma of substance use disorders, prevent the misuse of prescription medication and train individuals on the use of life-saving opioid antagonist, naloxone, all while raising awareness of SUD to people of all ages and socioeconomic status."

Highlights from their 2021-22 academic year include providing naloxone training at local Remote Area Medical clinics, the Bristol Juvenile Detention Center, National Nursing Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah and many others; collaborating with a local high school to participate in a Fentanyl awareness day with high school students, parents and community members; providing mental health and suicide prevention resources in surrounding communities; participating in local drug take-back days which help to secure used drugs, provide safe disposal of prescription drugs and allow an opportunity to educate the public about the potential for misuse of unused medications. 

“We are so proud of these students for their dedication to serving the rural and underserved, the mission of our college,” said Dr. Debbie Byrd, dean of ETSU Gatton College of Pharmacy. “When students enroll here, they become part of something bigger than themselves, and many are honored to earn awards on the state and national stage for their service to the community.” 

The deadline to apply for the Class of 2027 is June 1. 

ETSU Gatton College of Pharmacy was founded in 2005 by the community with a mission to develop progressive, team-oriented pharmacists who improve health care, focusing on rural and underserved communities. The college has earned numerous national awards and accolades for service, scholastic achievement and clinical training. Learn more at